Doctor & Physician Reputation Management
Have you tried a new restaurant? If so, did you visit Yelp to peruse some reviews? If you haven’t noticed, it’s been rating more than hamburger joints. According to a survey conducted by EHR comparison site, Software Advice, Yelp has become the number one site for online physician reviews, surpassing both Healthgrades and RateMDs in the process. It also tied with Healthgrades for the “most trusted” review-based site, according to 44% of consumers.
What can you do about online doctor and physician reputation?
Healthcare reputation management, or more specifically, doctor reputation management can make or break your practice. With effective healthcare practice reputation management, you can have more control of your reputation online.
Most Trusted Physician Review Sites
When selecting a physician, patients are taking full advantage of online reviews, and these reviews are determining which doctors they’re selecting. As you can see from the charts below, 61% of patients report consulting online reviews prior to selecting a doctor, and a 20% use them to help evaluate a current doctor.
The importance of online reviews can’t be ignored. Managing your reviews on sites such as Yelp and Healthgrades does more than generate new business; it directly improves patient retention.
Patients currently under your care may visit review-based sites to determine if their concerns are shared. A page of positive reviews can reassure a patient. On the other hand, a page of negative comments, especially unanswered ones, doesn’t bode well. Reviews such as these cause patients to question a physician’s qualifications, or worse, his overall concern towards his patients.
When seeking out physician reviews, patients ranked the following information as the most valuable:
- Quality of care
- Patient experience
- Photos of physician and/or practice
The implications run deeper. A Harvard Business School study indicates that as much as a one-star drop in rating can reduce a company’s revenue by about 10%. Sites like these have emboldened consumers to speak their mind, for better or for worse. Gone are the days when your practice’s digital presence could be ignored.
A patient left a negative review.
What are the physician’s options?
No one likes reading undesirable remarks about themselves, and some doctors have gone to extremes in order to banish bad reviews. In fact, a few physicians have taken it upon themselves to sue previous patients for negative Yelp posts.
A few years ago, a cosmetic surgeon sued three previous patients for comments on Yelp, followed by another plastic surgeon who opted to sue not one, but ALL of those behind her negative reviews across various sites. Both surgeons sued for libel, defamation, and assorted damages, however, the cases were dismissed.
Most reviews on sites such as Yelp, Health Grades, RateMDs, and Angie’s List are protected under the First Amendment (free speech). However, reviewers themselves could legally be guilty of defamation. The outcome depends on if they were asserting a fact or expressing an opinion. Here’s an example of each.
Opinion: Dr. Bad is a jerk, and he makes insensitive jokes. He is a terrible doctor, and I, for one, will never make another appointment with him again. He could use some help with his personal hygiene.
The review, although harsh to read, is an opinion. He expresses his own views, which cannot be proved one way or the other. The reviewer may not like the physician’s shampoo of choice, but he’s entitled to his own opinion. In his eyes, Dr. Bad (both literally and figuratively) stinks.
Defamation: Dr. Bad consistently didn’t show up for my appointments, nor is he board certified. He left me with a horrible scar post-surgery, and his surgeries have left several patients botched and disfigured.
A false assertion of fact that harms a business isn’t protected by the First Amendment. It is, therefore, considered a defamatory statement. It’s easy to check and see if Dr. Bad is board certified. If he botched several surgeries, that can be verified as well. If these accusations are proven false, the surgeon has every right to sue for defamation and have the review removed.
Having the ability to file a suit doesn’t mean you necessarily should. Prior to deciding to take legal action, you should always assess the severity of the review. Will only a few people ever see it? Is it believable? Is it causing damage to your reputation and/or practice? You should also consult a lawyer first.
If you sue someone, it tends to bring the review into the public light. This is sometimes referred to as The Streisand Effect, otherwise defined as “the phenomenon whereby an attempt to hide, remove, or censor a piece of information has the unintended consequence of publicizing the information more widely.”
In 2003, Barbara Streisand sued a photographer for including her Malibu house in one of his photos. Before the lawsuit, the photo had been downloaded by about 9 people (several of which were Streisand’s lawyers). Once she filed the suit, the photo was downloaded by upwards of a million curious individuals. Choose your battles wisely.
How should physicians respond?
The public’s eagerness to participate in giving and sharing online reviews leaves physicians with plenty of feedback –
both positive and negative.
Unlike other businesses, physicians are often caught in a uniquely challenging position. While other businesses can respond to reviews with an honest assessment or explanation
of the situation, healthcare providers cannot counter the statements with any details. Responses are constrained by HIPAA, and physicians must carefully craft their responses.
8 Tips for Dealing with Online Reviews
1. Keep tabs on your online presence. Choosing to ignore a review doesn’t reflect well on your image, especially since it only takes a few seconds to properly address a review. Put yourself and your practice in a positive light by offering courteous responses to questions or negative online reviews.
2. When possible, claim your online listings. On most review-based sites, you can click a “claim this business” button and fill out your contact info. Once you are verified as the owner (typically through a verification call or email), you are granted more control over the page. Doing so allows you to respond to reviews and, in some cases, contact reviewers. It also permits you to update information such as your bio, company information, credentials, or photos.
3. Respond promptly, politely, and positively. Avoid inappropriate or defensive comments, as engaging in an argument can only escalate matters. Responding appropriately can express compassion, and a willingness to work with them that can sometimes negate or disprove the original review.
4. Don’t mention specific details about a patient or procedure. It’s tempting to want to explain an outcome or defend yourself. However, doing so can be a quick and easy way to violate HIPAA. Even seemingly harmless details should be avoided, such as the date or time of a surgery. Instead, it’s best to empathize with a patient and encourage him/her to reach out to you personally. A courteous and respectful response demonstrates you care, and taking the conversation offline reduces the risk of a costly HIPAA violation. Here’s an example of a HIPAA-compliant response:
“I’m very sorry to hear about your experience. We always strive to provide our patients with the very best care, and I would welcome the opportunity to listen to your concerns and try and make things right. Please feel free to reach out to me personally to discuss the situation or come in for a complimentary follow-up visit.”
5. Invite satisfied patients to leave reviews. The best way to minimize the effect of negative reviews is to invite satisfied patients to share their experiences. In fact, the majority of physician reviews are overwhelmingly positive. Take, for example, the study published in The Journal of Urology, which surveyed 500 urologists. It found that over 10 physician-ranking sites, the number of reviews per physician ranged from 0 to 64, with an average of 2.4 reviews per urologist. Of these reviews, 86% were positive. It’s perfectly normal for a Yelp page to contain at least one or two negative reviews. If the reviews were all perfect, it would probably look suspicious anyway.
6. Never attempt to restrict a patient’s right to write a review. Many companies have attempted this, and many have failed. Refrain from asking patients to sign a waiver or policy that prevents them from exercising their First Amendment rights. Doing so can appear shady and underhanded.
7. Request feedback from patients on a consistent basis. Proactively asking patients for feedback makes them feel valued and respected. It demonstrates you are actively trying to meet your patients’ needs, and it’s an excellent means to obtain suggestions for improving your practice. Often, it allows physicians to resolve the issue before the patient resorts to Yelp or Healthgrades in frustration. Patient surveys, such as those provided by Press Ganey, have been proven to reduce the risk of claims, and ultimately, lawsuits.
8. Pay special attention to bedside manner. By analyzing over 3,500 reviews of 300 physicians, researchers from Vanguard Communications sought to determine the top reasons for complaints on physician review sites. A massive 43.1 percent of the negative reviews cited poor bedside manner and indifference as their major grievance. Taking extra care to improve your bedside manner can reduce negative reviews considerably.
Your Reputation Matters
Stop protecting just your practice. Whether you’ve received a claim or a negative review, your reputation is at stake. Capson does more than “protect your practice” because, to us, that’s only the beginning. It’s about fostering positive physician-patient relationships, protecting your reputation, and continuing with the career you love.
Capson offers a variety of reputation protection services. Our in-house reputation advisor equips you with tools and resources to help mitigate risk and manage your reputation before, during, and after a claim. We are also the only medical malpractice insurance carrier that offers proactive patient feedback monitoring surveys that help you prevent claims in the first place.
Online reviews are inevitable, and negative reviews often correlate with an increased likelihood of receiving a claim. It’s important to select a medical malpractice insurance carrier that offers reputation protection, especially one that will fight as hard for your reputation as it will for your practice during a claim or lawsuit.
Would you like to receive a complimentary Reputation Assessment to find out where you stand online, or learn more about reputation protection in general? If so, give us a call at 888.209.4759 to speak with a Capson advisor. If you found this article helpful, be sure to sign up for our newsletter as well by clicking the button below.